Our tenants arrived yesterday evening. They took a couple of days driving out from Milwaukee and called us at about 3:30 from the road to let us know they thought they'd be here at 5:30. At that point we were still operating power tools and walking around with paint cans in their apartment. Home improvement always takes longer than you think and I'm not sure if the hard deadline we had made it more or less stressful. I finished cleaning their kitchen at 5:29 and we left a few details unfinished.
Nothing we did to their apartment came out perfectly but we kept saying to ourselves, "We haven't made anything worse." The one thing I wasn't one hundred percent sure about was the wood floors. They looked so much better than they had before . . . but they were still old, beat up floors. Our plan had been to carpet both rooms and I worried that tenants would wish we'd done that. I had taken a couple of people upstairs to "show off" my work on the floors and they always entered the apartment in the front and first saw the brand new, perfectly installed flooring in those rooms. One friend even began to effusively compliment me before realizing we were in the wrong room. The reaction upon seeing the rooms I'd actually done myself was always polite, but definitely not gushing.
But the tenants genuinely like them! We took them up for their first viewing of the apartment in person (they took it sight unseen after viewing lots of pictures and detailed floor plans and write-ups from us). They examined the front two rooms and then we took them back and the first thing they said was, "Wow, these floors turned out great!" Music to my ears.
So, keeping in mind the horribly abused floors we began with, here is the previously carpeted bedroom:
This room was also repainted but more on that later.
And here is the room previously covered in very old vinyl tile:
The petrified glue on this floor did a number on my sanding pads and I ended up prying a lot of it up by hand with a paint scraper. And in this picture you can see a patch in the floor over on the left. When we pulled up the old floor that patch was three painted boards and we weren't sure they were going to be nice wood. One of the boards actually had some writing on it but the writing wasn't clear enough to read before the sander obliterated it. I was glad once we cleaned them up to see that the boards were oak just like the rest of the floor. Eric really wanted to pry up the boards and look for buried treasure (definitely wouldn't surprise me around here) but I was too creeped out by that idea and decided we had other priorities.
After my seven-hour day with the rented floor sander I used pretty much every minute of free time for the next three days using my random orbital hand sander to attack stubborn spots. The floor doesn't obviously slope or bow in any one direction as old houses often do, but it's definitely not level, either. I cleaned things up a lot but I also discovered all of my perfectionist tendencies coming to the fore. Every time I eliminated one nasty spot, the remaining ones looked that much worse. Eventually I decided that in order to finish our other projects and preserve my sanity I had to call it quits.
I did lots of research on finishing methods. I've refinished some of our furniture and some of the new pieces I've built but I figured floors would require a different approach. I quickly discovered that people have really strong opinions on this topic. After reading lots of opinions from professionals and other DIYers I opted to skip the stain and apply three coats of water-based finish with a 4" brush. I bought a 200 oz. jug of Zar Ultra-Max in semi-gloss. The front rooms are more of a high-gloss finish but I thought the older floors would do better in a more muted treatment and I'm really pleased with the result.
You can get lambswool applicator pads that attach to a long pole and apply finish that way but I'd read about some people having a lot of trouble with left-behind fibers. Since I knew I'd need a 4" brush for the edges anyway, and since the rooms were small and we were trying to stay under budget I opted to brush on the finish over the entire floor. I won't go so far as to say this was a mistake. I did it and the finish itself is awesome no matter what you think of the condition of the floors underneath. But if we ever do our own floors, I'm definitely going to give the pad-on-a-pole set up a try. My knees are never going to forgive me for crawling around on wood floors for days on end and I was totally wiped out after I was done. I also found that it was very tricky to pour out only as much poly as I needed for a particular spot and I repeatedly--through all three coats--would overestimate and accidentally splash some poly to a spot I'd just finished. I'd then need to do these crazy yoga-esque moves where I'd kind of brace myself with one finger against the baseboards trying to reach the drops and blend them into the floor. The upside to doing it all with a brush is that it was really easy to see those kinds of mistakes before they became harder to deal with.
So there's the floors. I have a few more posts on the counters, cabinets, and paint jobs, so those of you who eat this home renovation stuff for breakfast have a lot to look forward to!